Modern medicine is responsible for preventing or curing many diseases in today’s world. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine, no preventative measure, no medication or cure for an eating disorder. Rather treatment for eating disorders focuses on recognizing the underlying triggers in order to prevent and lesson the symptoms. Although there is no “magic pill” to cure an eating disorder, modern medicine does play a major role in diagnosing eating disorders and treating co-occurring disorders such as substance abuse and mental health disorders that commonly exist with eating disorders.

Eating disorders and medical intervention

Eating disorders can disrupt the body’s physiological balance by causing a shift in electrolytes, potentiating organ failure and resulting in many physical symptoms such as heartburn, tooth decay, loss in menstruation, hair and nail loss and severe gastrointestinal side effects. Medical intervention is necessary when an individual develops physical signs and symptoms associated with their eating disorder or when an individual begins to eat after starving themselves for long periods of time. Refeeding syndrome is one of the most serious medical complications associated with eating disorders and results in depletion of vital electrolytes such as potassium, magnesium and phosphate once the individual has started eating after chronic starvation. If refeeding syndrome occurs, the individual needs to be hospitalized and closely monitored by both a doctor and a dietitian to ensure they are receiving the appropriate amount of nutrients, intravenous fluids and medications without overdoing it. Feeding too fast too soon can throw the body into refeeding syndrome and therefore progression must be slow.

Medical interventions in co-occurring disorders

Eating disorders often co-occur with substance abuse and mental health conditions. Benzodiazepine and alcohol abuse can be treated with a slow tapering of low-dose benzodiazepines however other substances such as cocaine and marijuana do not have a specific treatment antidote. Opioid addiction can be treated with different medications that use an opioid agonist, an opioid blocker and/or a combination of both to alleviate the withdrawals. Substance abuse is one of the leading causes of eating disorders and eating disorders can also lead to substance abuse. Regardless of which condition came first, there are medical interventions to manage substance abuse disorders associated with eating disorders.

Anxiety disorders and depression commonly co-exist with eating disorders and are considered both risk factors and complications. Both mental health disorders are primarily managed through medications and although there is no cure for depression or anxiety, there are plenty of medications available to help alleviate symptoms and prevent further complications such as suicide.  Medication management for mental health disorders that co-occur with eating disorders are best managed by a psychiatrist.

The initial diagnosis and treatment of eating disorders

Once an individual enters eating disorder treatment, a full medical examination is required in order to rule out any medical conditions such as thyroid disease and anemia. Physical examinations as well as a panel of blood tests are usually ordered not to diagnosis the specific eating disorder, but to rather rule out medical conditions that can interfere with treatment or cause complications. It is important to treat and stabilize any medical conditions before the initiation of eating disorder therapy. Although there is no “cure” or “magic pill” for eating disorder, modern medicine is necessary in order to aid in successful eating disorder treatment and recovery.

We’re Here for You

If you are struggling or someone you know is struggling, we are here for you. Center for Discovery’s Treatment Centers specialize in treatment for eating disorders, mental health and dual diagnosis treatment with unique treatment programs for every individual to get them on their way to eating disorder recovery.

For more information, resources, or to consult with one of our specialists, call 855.433.9798.

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